Constitutional Issues

Constitutional Issues 1

            The First Amendment of the United States Constitution deals with the people’s freedom of expression, religion and the freedom of the press (Mount, 2007). For the purpose of this paper, the issues of separation of church and state and the freedom of the press are discussed herein. Where does the line fall in terms of separation of the church and state? The case of Alabama Judge Roy Moore gives us a fine example.

Judge Moore and the Ten Commandments

            In 1995, then Judge Roy Moore had a wood-carved copy of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom. Judge Moore was sued by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and the American Free thought Association for displaying the item in his courtroom. Both groups wanted the judge to remove the said display from the courtroom.  Both suits were eventually dismissed (Mount, 2007).

            After being appointed as Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice, Moore had a 5300 pound, granite monument installed at the rotunda of the state Supreme Court building. Again, the topic of the monument was, again, the Ten Commandments (Mount, 2007). A case for the removal of the monument was again raised, and the Federal trial court inspected the monument. After the trial, the judge had ordered the removal of the monument (Mount, 2007).

            Justice Moore appealed the case, and a stay of judgement was handed down until the issue could be settled and processed. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals ruled that the monument had failed two of the three prongs of the Lemon Test. (The Lemon test, named after the 1971 Supreme Court case Lemon vs. Kurtzman, is used to see if a law violates the 1st Amendment of the Constitution.

            Here, it deals with a Rhode Island law. Under the law, some of the salary of some parochial school teachers paid by the state was deemed unconstitutional (Mount, 2007). In its decision, the Court ruled or outlined the parameters of the Lemon Test. The Court ruled that first, a statute must have a secular or legislative purpose: second, the primary effect of the statute either helps/advances or stops the practice of religion and third, the statute must not make government too involved or “entangled”, as the test put it, with religion (par., The Lemon Test, Mount, 2007).

Protecting your sources: Freedom of the Press

            Does the First Amendment protect the press from government demands for information (Mount, 2007).  The First Amendment does provide a limited privilege not to disclose their sources or information to litigants who seek to use that information in court (Goodale, 1997). In the case of Branzburg v. Hayes, in the decision of the Court penned by Supreme Court Associate Justice Byron White, the Court held that reporters did not have a privilege to refuse to answer a grand jury’s questions that directly related to criminal conduct that the journalists observed and wrote about (Goodale, 1997). The case involved Paul Branzburg who reported his observations of persons smoking marijuana at a party and of two men in the act of turning marijuana into hashish (Linder, 2007). As a result of his report, he (Branzburg) was called before a grand jury concerning the identities of drug users and drug synthesizers. Branzburg refused, stating that the First Amendment provided reporters like himself with a privilege against testifying in such circumstances (Linder, 2007).  In disagreeing with Branzburg, the Court rejected the notion that the First Amendment offered any absolute privilege. Note that the Court differentiated from limited privilege and the scope of the protection of the 1st amendment or any absolute privilege (Linder, 2007).

The right to carry firearms

            The Second Amendment of the Constitution is a more sensitive part for discussion. It mainly deals with the right of an individual to have ownership of a firearm (Mount, 2007). The question being raised is: Is the amendment created for the continuation of the militias (present day national Guards) or was it created to ensure the right of an individual to own a firearm (par., Mount, 2007).

            In 2007, The District of Columbia Court of Appeals decided in the Parker v. District of Columbia case, the Court struck down the District’s ban on individuals’ having handguns in their homes (Linder, 2007). In it’s 2 to 1 ruling (Linder, 2007), the Court ruled that D.C. laws that essentially prohibit the private ownership within the District was unconstitutional (Mount, 2007). In its resolution, the Court found that despite the first part of the amendment, the second part of the amendment’ premise is that guns would be kept by citizen’s for protection and sport (Mount, 2007).

How does it relate?

            The First Amendment mainly deals with religion, freedom of expression and the press; the Second Amendment deals with carrying firearms. I believe the relationship of these two lie in choices people want.  To ensure the freedom that the First Amendment guarantees are hallmarks of any democracy. That goes with the choice whether or not to own a firearm. But the rights that the Amendments specify come with responsibilities.

            These responsibilities are not to be taken for granted. People are not supposed to insist on these rights if and when they trample on the rights of another. Then we can say that the statutes affect all and benefit the greatest good.

References

Goodale, J. (1997). The first amendment and freedom of the press. Issues of Democracy. eJournal           USA, Vol. 2, No. 1, February 1997. Retrieved January 29, 2008, from United States State          Department Bureau of International Information Programs database.            http://usinfo.state.gov/journals/itdhr/0297/ijde/goodale.htm

Linder, D. (2007). A right to bear arms. Retrieved January 29, 2008, from Exploring Constitutional             Conflicts database.

            http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/beararms.htm

Linder, D. (2007). Reporter’s privilege and first amendment protection of newsrooms from           government searches. Retrieved January 29, 2008, from Exploring Constitutional Conflicts      database.

            http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/pressaccess.html

Mount.S. (2007). Things that are not in the U.S. Constitution. Contemporary issues. December 1,           2007. Retrieved January 28, 2008, from the United States Constitution site.

            http://www.usconstitution.net/constquick.html